By Katie Collins
News Eagle Reporter
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WESTFALL TWP. - Fifth and sixth grade students at Delaware Valley Elementary School are on a mission to educate people about bullying and its effects on others this April, by presenting "Letters to Daddy" an anti-bullying musical in the DVHS auditorium, April 26, 27 at 7p.m. and Sunday the 28 at 2p.m.
The students are members of DVE-TV, a student funded journalism program, run by the kids, for the kids where they report, write and do everything professional journalists do. With the guidance of three very dedicated coaches; Sharon Seigel, Teri Banach and Christine Gawel, the students have been working all year, raising funds to buy the rights to the play. Aside from worrying about their academics and other extracurricular activities, the students practice regularly, with the help of DVE-TV's coaches and many others who are volunteering their time to present the one-of-a-kind show.
When two long-time friends, Will Rodman and John O’Neill received enough, "eye rolls" from their children, they realized that their attempts at educating their kids about life and many of its challenges wasn't getting through to them. Soon, the fathers discovered that entertainers like Miley Cyrus were reaching their kids, better than they were. As a result, the men created, "Letters to Daddy," where a teacher gives his students an assignment to write letters about issues in their lives. After the teacher's daughter is punished for something, she finds the letters from his students and realizes that there are kids just like her, who have it a lot worse in their lives.
The musical, Rodman said, is meant to "enlighten, empower and enrich everyone," by using entertainment as, "mechanisms, fortified to provide education," rather than compromising one for the other. Rodman called the musical more of an "amazing life experience, than a musical production" because of the "external values and intrinsic values," that are presented in the show.
Something the men realized as they were working on the songs for the musical was that programs that can educate children have to be able to raise consciousness, while also helping people, which he feels, "Letters to Daddy," does because both Rodman and O’Neill incorporated their own life and professional experiences. He added that, "it wasn’t an opportunity, it was an obligation."
Through the, "power of music," Rodman and O’Neill wrote contemporary songs that he said are "hip and fun" as well as positive, rather than the messages that repeatedly say, "don’t drink, don't drive." He explained that the, "subconscious mind only latches onto the action."
Rilee O’Neill, was just 11 when her god father, Rodman and her father created the musical, in which she stared. Six years later, O’Neill, said she thinks the musical is "awesome," because it is different from others since every song tells a story. The great lyrics, she said, just makes viewers want to keep watching.
Today, without any real promotional efforts, Rodman said the musical has been performed on six continents, even having been preformed by a choir of homeless orphans from Uganda. Having experienced both positive and negative lessons, he said, "the beauty of Letters to Daddy is everything evolved and it evolved organically and also earnestly." With kids facing so many issues in life, "Letters to Daddy" Rodman said, addresses every issue, without actually addressing any issue specifically, because of the practical scenarios that play out in the show.
The approach to teaching the lessons, "instead of telling them what we don’t want them to do, what do we want them to," he asked. Rather than "worrying about what's wrong with you, look at what's right with you and make that the centerpiece," Rodman said. Aside from people focusing on their strengths, Rodman added that it is important for people to work together in collaboration because, "together we can change the world." The musical gives kids an awareness that they are consciously present for situations and will be able to see how their words, thoughts and actions affect others, Rodman explained. Kids, Rodman said, need to be aware that they "have choices, always, even when it doesn't appear that they do," he added that, "everything is achievable, the question is always how."
Rodman said current entrainment programs, "dumb things down for children," with life lessons being presented by cartoon vegetables. He asked, "where do we lose the connection with real people, to experience real life struggles and challenges?"
Fixing problems from within, children helping other children, working in collaboration, Rodman said that, "through collaboration everything is possible," because, "we are all stars, shining as a constellation."
Calling the show, "inspirational," sixth grader, Addy Ross explained that the show, "tells people to be kind to each other, no matter if you're from a different place, because you should still be nice." As for her role as Franny, Ross said it is difficult because she has to play a bully and in the show she actually bullies one of her friends.
As for John Anthony Cirello, a sixth grader at DVES, he said he is participating in the show because of his own experience of being bullied. Cirello said he is having fun and he really likes singing, acting and "everything about it."
Fifth grader, Mary Quinn is an understudy and a member of the chorus. She said the musical is good because, "they're trying to stop bullying." Quinn, has actually taught her fellow cast mates sign language, which the cast has learned and they may even sign for some of the songs.
As for the plot of the musical, Quinn said it is good, because it shows that, "you can stand up and you can't judge a book by its cover." Having a lot of fun, Quinn said she likes that she gets to be a totally different person, who happens to also relate to the character. But mainly, she said, she likes that she knows the cast is, "making a difference in the world."